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Finding a school and applying for a place

Most children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) will get a school place in the same way as children without SEND but there is a different system for children with an Education Health and Care (EHC) plan – both are discussed below.

When exploring options of schools it is often useful to;

  • Read through information on the school’s websites – including their SEN Information Report and Policies (Behaviour, SEN and Supporting pupils medical needs for example)
  • Arrange visits to schools to get both get first-hand experience of what they have to offer and to provide an opportunity to ask questions.

Things to consider/ask on a school visit

First impressions

  • On your first contact with the school and during the visit do you feel welcomed?
  • How big is the site? Is it safe and secure?
  • Would you like your child to spend their school days there?


  • How does the school prepare for a child’s admission to the school?
  • What extra activities does the school provide at lunch time/ after school? What are the supervision arrangements?
  • How does the school’s discipline system adapt to take account of the specific needs and difficulties of children? Is positive behaviour praised?
  • How does the school help children socialise and make friends?
  • Are there any particular areas of expertise/provision in school?


  • How is information on a child’s needs shared with school staff?
  • How does the school communicate relevant information to parents and encourage parents to communicate with them?
  • What arrangements there are for you, as a parent, to discuss your child’s progress and contribute to target setting and planning, learning opportunities, including homework.
  • Whether there are opportunities to meet with parents of other children at school, perhaps through organised meetings, e.g. PTA


  • What teaching methods and strategies are used to aid children’s learning?
  • How many children would be in your child’s class?
  • How many members of staff (i.e. teachers, learning support assistants) would be in your child’s class?
  • How is the school day/week structured and how will the teaching and learning in class meet your child’s needs?
  • What the school’s expectations are of their children and parents


  • It may be helpful to explore the school’s behaviour and anti-bullying policies. Do they match your expectations of your child?
  • If your child has a medical condition/disability you may also way to share information regarding what help your child requires as a result of their medical condition/disability – including what equipment they need access to and any staff training required.
  • If your child has an EHC plan and you are exploring a special school;
    • What area(s) of need do the school cater for – is there a suitable peer group for your child?
    • Are there any therapies offered on site?
    • What communication methods (e.g. Makaton) are used?
    • Are there any specialist facilities (e.g. sensory room) on site?
    • Does the school have links with other schools? If so what opportunities does this provide for children?

Admissions – Children without an EHC plan

Most children with special educational needs (SEN) do not require an EHC plan as their needs can be met within the resources of a mainstream school. These children will get a school place through the local authority’s admissions system.

Normal admissions round

This is when children start school for the first time or move to a different phase of education, for example from primary to secondary school. For Rotherham resident children admissions are coordinated centrally by Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council. There are national deadlines for primary applications (15th January) and for secondary applications (31st October).

When applying for your child, you will need to fill in a common application form and express a preference for up to three schools in order of preference. You can apply online at or you can request a paper common application form. You can apply for schools outside of the Rotherham local authority if you want to, but you still use Rotherham's application form. The information on your form is then passed to the schools to decide whether they can offer your child a place based on their admission criteria. Many schools have more applicants than places available and use admission criteria to decide which children have priority.

Parents of a summer born child may choose not to send their child to school until the September following their firth birthday and may request that they are admitted out of their normal age group. There is government guidance on the admission of summer born children which you may find useful to familiarise yourself with if you are considering this option along with speaking the head teachers of your preferred schools. This request (including reasons) must be submitted in writing to the Admissions Team, along with your application form stating your preferred schools. Upon receipt the Authority will seek to take into account the views of Head Teacher(s) of your preferred school(s) and a decision will be made.

Offer of a school

The schools you've listed will each decide whether they can offer your child a place and the local authority will consider these offers against your preferences, along with the preferences of other parents. And on national offer day (1st March for secondary, 16th April for primary) you'll get a single offer of a school. If none of your preferences can offer your child a place you'll be offered another school which is likely to be the nearest school with places still available.

In-year/transfer applications

If you have moved into Rotherham outside of the normal admissions round, or if you want a change of school for your child you can request a school transfer by completing a Common Application Form (Transfers).

What if I'm not happy with the school offered?

If you’re unhappy with the school offered, there are a number of options open to you:

  • Keep your child on the waiting list for any schools you originally applied for; sometimes there is some movement before September
  • Put in a new application for other schools not on your original list
  • Appeal for any school where you applied and were turned down

You may want to accept the school place offered, even if you are unhappy with it as this will ensure that your child has a guaranteed school place if other options fail.

Appeals are made to an independent appeal panel and you must submit our appeal within 21 school days of the decision, to the local authority. Please view Rotherham’s school admissions appeals guidance for more information on what to include in your appeal form.

Please bear in mind that infant classes (Foundation 2, Year 1 or Year 2) must not contain more than 30 pupils with a single class teacher therefore at an appeal the panel could only uphold your appeal if there has been a mistake and your child should have been given a place.

Can a school refuse to take a child because they are disabled or because they don’t have an EHC plan?

School admissions are covered by the Equality Act 2010 and therefore a school cannot legally refuse to take your child because they have a disability or SEN, if your child would otherwise have qualified for a place under the admission criteria. Also a school cannot refuse to admit a child on the grounds that the child may need an EHC plan but haven’t yet got one - Schools can put into place where need additional support for a child within their own resources prior to needing to request top up funding from the local authority (via making a request for an EHC needs assessment).

Children with Education, Health and Care (EHC) plans

For children who have an EHC plan, requesting a place for a school is not completed through the usual admissions process. Instead, part of the process of getting an EHC plan involves getting a school 'named' in your child’s plan. This means that you can express a preference for the school you want when the local authority are initially preparing an EHC plan for your child following their assessment or as part of their EHC plan annual review (e.g. when your child moves to a different phase of education).

Requesting a school or college be named in your child’s EHC plan

When you get a draft EHC plan, the name of the school in section I will be left blank and you will be asked for your preference of school. You have a specific right to express a preference for any school in the following categories:

  • maintained nursery school
  • maintained school and any form of academy or free school (mainstream or special)
  • non-maintained special school
  • further education or sixth form college
  • independent school or independent specialist colleges (where they have been approved for this purpose by the Secretary of State and published in a list available to all parents and young people)

SEND Code of Practice 0-25, paragraph 9.78

The local authority must then consult with your preferred school; this normally involves sending the school a copy of the EHC plan and reports. The school will give an opinion about whether they can meet your child's needs, but the final decision on whether to name a school lies with the local authority.

The local authority must name your preference unless it is:

  • Unsuitable for your child's age, ability, aptitude and special educational needs, or
  • Their attendance there would be incompatible with:
    • The efficient education of other children (whom them would directly come into contact with on a regular day-to-day basis)
    • The efficient use of resources

If the school is named in your child’s EHC plan, the school must admit them.

If you want a school or college that is completely independent then you can ask the local authority to consider it (this is called 'making representations'). The school will need to agree to take your child, and you will likely have to prove that no other school is suitable.

Sometimes your local authority may not name the school you want. This could be for reasons such as:

  • The school caters for a different type of need and therefore your child would not have a suitable/appropriate peer group
  • admitting your child would impact the efficient education of others whom they would come into contact – this could be either due to the number of children already in the class or due to the challenging behaviour your child displays in the school environment (where reasonable steps cannot be taken to remove the incompatibility).
  • The school you want is very expensive and the local authority considers that your child's needs can be met in a school that costs less.

If your preference of school is not named in your child’s final EHC plan, ask for detailed reasons as this will help you decide whether you want to appeal.

Right to a mainstream education

There is a general right in law to a mainstream school place if this is what you want, however please bear in mind that this is a general right and not a right to a particular mainstream school. If you say that you want a mainstream education for your child and the local authority cannot name your preferred school, then the expectation would be that they look more widely at other mainstream schools in the area.

The local authority can only name a special school against your wishes if:

  • Admitting your child to a mainstream school would be incompatible with the efficient education of other children and
  • There are no reasonable steps that the school or local authority can take to overcome that incompatibility

The local authority cannot refuse a mainstream education outright on the grounds of that it is 'not suitable'.

Moving to secondary school or post 16 education with an EHC plan

If your child is moving to secondary school or leaving school to go to college, you must be asked for your preference for the next stage of education. Options are likely to be discussed at the annual review before transfer.

There are set legal timescales for the local authority to name the new school/college for entry in September. These are:

  • 15th February for secondary
  • 31st March for post 16

You will need to think about which school you want well before this time and for secondary transfers it is good to start planning when your child is towards the end of year 5 so you are in a position to share your preference at their EHC plan review meeting (which would likely be held around October/November time shortly after entering year 6).

I know what school I would like my child to attend…what do I do next?

Share your preference clearly with your child’s allocated EHC plan Case Co-ordinator (01709 822660) during either the 15 calendar days following the receipt of your child’s draft EHC plan (if you are in the initial EHC assessment process) or as close to the review of your child’s EHC plan as possible (e.g. within the review meeting). It is often useful to share your preference in writing as this will also allow you to document your reasons for why the school is your preference.

Challenging decisions

Upon your child’s final plan being issued, you will be made aware of your right to go to mediation and to appeal to the First Tier Tribunal for Special Educational Needs and Disability. If the local authority does not name the school you want, you wish to pursue either/both of these options. Please see our other factsheets which provide further information on these options.

© 2020 Rotherham SENDIASS

Unless otherwise stated.